Options for city’s new public safety building on table

The city of Homer faces a problem similar to a business owner with a leaky roof. Does the business fix the roof or, anticipating future growth, build a larger building and take out a bigger loan to pay for it?

That’s the kind of situation Homer faces with a dilapidated police station and an aging fire hall. The Public Safety Building Committee has been considering the big-building solution, a new combined fire and police station to go in at the northwest corner of Pioneer Avenue and the Sterling Highway — also the site of the Homer Education and Recreation Complex, the former intermediate school.

Faced with a daunting $28 million cost, the committee for the past three months has been considering other options. At Monday night’s Homer City Council work session, committee member Barbara Howard and Stantec architect Dale Smyth put two more options on the table. Together, the three options are:

• Option 1, a combined police and fire station that would cost $28.7 million to build and $300,000 yearly to maintain. If bonded at 3-4 percent, the annual payment for a 20-year bond would be $1.9-$2.1 million.

• Option 2, a scaled back police and fire station at $23 million that would cost $204,000 a year to maintain and have an annual bond payment for a 20-year bond of $1.5-$1.7 million.

• Option 3, a police only building and a $1 million upgrade of the existing fire hall at $15 million and cost $144,000 a year to maintain, with a 20-year bond annual payment of $1-1.1 million.

Options 1 and 2 would demolish the HERC building, a skateboard park and outdoor basketball courts. Option 3 would leave the HERC building intact.

Howard said the police station is in the worst shape, with

occasional flooding and cramped jail space. She called Option 3 a stop gap measure to the larger issue of providing a modernized fire and emergency medical facility. Howard noted that Monday’s regular council meeting would swear in new emergency medical technician graduates, although the graduates weren’t able to attend.

“They deserve a safe and efficient work area,” she said of the EMTs.

Homer Mayor Beth Wythe has been a strong proponent of what’s now Option 1. It’s the single, long-term, get it done for 50 years option, she said. Option 2 is the 20-year option while Option 3 would be a 20-year option for the police station and extend the life of the fire hall another 10 years.

“I am a long-term thinker,” Wythe said. “The concept of thinking of this as ‘what fits in the box today,’ knowing that in 10 to 15 years you will have to add or double, doesn’t seem to be a good plan.”

Council member David Lewis focused on the big question of all three options: how to pay for it.

“The main thing is to figure out what option we want and present it to the voters as a property tax or a sales tax, correct?” he asked.

“Or a general obligation bond,” Howard said.

“That’s kind of the next step,” Wythe said.

Council member Heath Smith said he felt uncomfortable going to the voters with any option, saying $14 or 15 million is too much.

“I think we need to take something a little more reasonable to the voters. It’s too big. It’s too grand,” he said. “I’m not willing to say yes to any of them.”

Demolishing the HERC building, the ball courts and the skateboard park also raised another hurdle, council member Donna Aderhold and Lewis both said. Even though the city keeps the HERC on low heat, its gym has been popular for programs like pickle ball.

“The HERC building has a following,” Lewis said. “I would tend to look at Option 3 if we want this to pass now. We still keep the HERC building.”

Aderhold said the HERC facilities are important to the community.

“If we go we’re going to go for Option 1, how are we going to replace that?” she asked.

Wythe said the city is looking at options for replacing the HERC. Because of safety concerns, she said the city removed bleachers in the gym and set an occupancy cap of 35 people.

“It’s not a health facility for people to be in and recreating in. It’s all good until something goes wrong,” she said.

Aderhold said the HERC is part of the opposition to the Public Safety Building. There needs to be a conversation about replacing the HERC and building a recreational facility, she said. Lewis agreed.

“I think if we want Option 1 or 2, we’re going to have that plan on the table and working toward it in order to get the public’s support,” he said.

Frustrated with discussion of the HERC, Wythe said the city lost a year working on the Public Safety Building because of the HERC.

“This is a perfect example of how easy it is to derail the public safety building by talking about the HERC,” Wythe said.

With the Public Safety Building a topic of discussion at the work session, the council took no action on any of the options. The city did authorize funding for Stantec to come up with design proposals that could be used to apply for federal or other non-state grants. Those plans also would be used to help sell a bond or other funding proposal to the voters, possibly at the October municipal election. 

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.